This is a long post, if you would like, you can skip to TL;DR for a summary.
Have you heard? Millennials have broken the world.
Over the span of the last five years there have—literally—been thousands of articles accusing millennials of killing, breaking, or ruining just about everything. Everything from dating, to vacations, to homeownership, to department stores (sorry JCPenney, you’re on your own) are on the millennial kill list. Millennials, it seems, just don’t give a f***.
If you give us something nice, we’ll find a way to break it. Right?
As a fellow millennial, I know none of this is new. We’ve been hearing about all of the things that we’re ruining in some form or another pretty much since blogs became the mainstream. But claiming that millennials are ‘killing the cruise industry’ is tantamount to saying that we’re killing the coal industry. It’s not us, ’tis the times, my friend. If these industries don’t evolve with society and, more importantly, technology, then they ultimately kill themselves. So sorry the demand for cruises is down, but we millennials already do a ton of solo traveling already. Maybe a faux resort on a boat with endless buffets just doesn’t appeal to us as much as it did our parents?
Yes, in these times, it is almost too easy to tune out the cacophony of fingers being pointed in our direction for all of our transgressions upon modern society…
THAT. ALL. SAID.
There is one criticism pointed our direction that I want to talk about today that, in all honesty, is one I feel we have to both own, and work to fix.
Yes, it is entirely ironic to me that the most impassioned and outwardly vocal generation that has ever existed on this planet does not have it in them to get up and take a stand at the polling stations when the moment comes. And it literally makes no sense.
We are obsessed with social change as a generation. We march. We form petitions. We organize against the things we feel are wrong. We join organizations doing social good. We take to social media day in and day out to yell out our opinions about how wrong and messed up everything is…But when it comes time to actually push the agenda we are looking for, in measurable ways, we fizzle.
Why is this the case?
Ranging everywhere from apathy, to institutional distrust, to disliking candidates, to it simply being inconvenient. Indeed, less than a year ago I actually polled my own social circle about why those that didn’t vote hadn’t. Of those that actually admitted it and were willing to talk about it, the overwhelming answers were one of two: 1) “my vote doesn’t matter anyway” and 2) “if I don’t vote, I can’t be blamed for the outcome”.
This was shocking to me. These people, that I otherwise considered very intelligent and coherent individuals, were opting out of the process of their own accord due to disenfranchisement. Because I was shocked, I decided to dig a bit deeper.
Addressing the rationale.
1) “My vote doesn’t matter anyway”
I’ve actually heard this one a number of times (not just from millennials) and, despite the pervasiveness of this myth, it has been proven false, time and again.
After asking a number of ‘why’s’ and ‘why do you feel that ways’ -- I hit a breakthrough. Of the five people who were willing to talk about it and had this answer, four eventually landed on the following: “Look at 2016. The country voted one way, the election went the other.”
And thus, I struck upon the core of this belief. A cursory poll to friends that I know like to engage in political conversation with me confirmed it: people just don’t understand how our voting system works.
I say people, because, upon talking to other people in my immediate bubble outside the millennial age range, they seemed to confirm this. People are really mad about the 2016 election. Not to beat a dead horse, but the fact that Hillary won the popular vote, but still lost the election, is still really bugging people.
And this isn’t a new thing. Talking to a number of folks who were old enough to actually have voted in the nineties, the scandal that unfolded with the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths then too.
Without falling down a rabbit hole on the US electoral system (which, by the way, SAM is endorsing reform around), this seems to be a core issue with voter, and—more specifically—millennial disenfranchisement with the idea of voting.
The cure? Knowledge.
While it may seem like a complicated and out of date system, the electoral college is still the core system that dictates which way presidential elections will swing, and if you think that it’s an unfair system that doesn’t vote the way you do, that’s actually incorrect. There’s only ever been 179 individuals in the electoral college who have voted against their electorate (called ‘faithless electors’). Of those, 71 changed their vote (in 1872 and 1912), because their candidate died before the electoral ballot, two chose to abstain (1812 and 2000), and only once in history (1863) did an entire state’s electors act in unison to defy their popular vote. AND, not to mention that in the entire history of faithless electors, the aforementioned 1863 election was the only time that these defectors have actually swayed an election one way or the other (thanks Wikipedia!).
What does this mean? You need to vote. Cause your vote will matter in your state. If there are enough of you’s, then your electors will vote the direction you want.
2) “If I don’t vote, I can’t be blamed for the outcome”
This one was a tougher nut to crack. It boggles my mind that someone would think that abstaining is both a better choice, and NOT a choice. But, my inquisitive nature begged for more.
Again, after all the ‘why’s’ my poor interviewees could handle, I came upon a deeper common truth. People feel disconnected from what happens in politics. After a few varied answers that all kind of tied within this theme, the consensus among the six people I talked to seemed to be that of either “politics don’t affect me” or “whatever, it’s all rigged anyway”. Both of which seeming to stem from the idea that politics are the problem. And somehow disengaging is more liberating.
While that’s a philosophical discussion for another post, I do want to address the two statements because they’re important to the conversation at hand.
First off, thinking that politics don’t affect you is a very dangerous notion. Why? Because. Politics affects everything around you. Don’t believe me? Quick survey: Who paves your roads? Who decided it would be a good idea to put in that super cool skate park near you? Who decided to allow the contractors to build a super hip new restaurant or bar near you?
Someone did. And these are all governed over by government entities. The decision-makers of which, are almost all elected officials. The old adage that “All Politics Is Local” is actually quite true. The reality is that everything around you in your town or city is governed over by something, and the people put in control over those things are usually elected officials. Opting out means that you’re letting someone else decide that for you. It affects you. I promise.
Secondly, while whether the system is all ‘rigged’ is also a salient topic for another post, and it is no secret that right now people pretty much unilaterally agree that special interests hold too much sway in government, opting out doesn’t solve that problem either. In fact, all opting out does is continue to keep those special interests in power. In a time when most politicians are actively working to make it more difficult for you to vote or picking their electorate to favor them, if you are able to vote, you really need to. Because if you don’t, the system will never be unrigged. It takes your vote to change that.
Politician you elected doesn’t do what s/he promised or what’s in your best interest? Cool. Then vote them out next election. While it is frustrating that election cycles can feel super long when the bad is happening, the best way to affect change around you (and all the way up nationally), is voting.
So, millennials, here we are.
I know that was a lot. And I know that doesn’t even begin to cover the huge ground around why we don’t seem to want to vote. But as a fellow millennial, working within an organization that will one day need your votes in order to affect change, I leave you with this parting thought:
We now make up the largest eligible voter group in the nation, and while it may be easy to just tune out the fire and fury of modern day politics, the fact of the matter is that (against our aching wills), we are now, and are certain to be, the grown-ups of the future. If we don’t start working for the outcome of that future, someone else will surely decide it for us.
So please, VOTE. It’s our time.
Oh and also, join us maybe?
I get it. This is a long post, so if you want the summation, here it is: Millennials now make up the largest group of eligible voters in the US. We could swing any election we want, but we don’t show up to vote. There are a number of reasons why (which I work to help to debunk above), but the fact is that all seemingly logical reasons to not vote are illogical in nature. And the only way to really affect the change we are so vocal about in every other facet of our lives (but mostly social media), is to use the rules of the game against those in power who have, to date, failed us. So please. Let’s all vote, and save the future we will inherit.